Thursday, January 6, 2011

No broken legs & I still have eyebrows

Nick and I wrapped up 2010 in Garmisch-Partinkirchen, Germany, visiting Nick's sister Jill and her boyfriend, Tim.  They treated us to great skiing (so great, in fact, that General Petraeus was skiing at the same place with his family while we were there!); to some near-death experiences on New Year's Eve during a town-wide homemade fireworks display, to an annual New Year's Day ski jump competition, and to yet more near-death experiences on sleds down a ski hill the day after.  It was an excellent spot to bid adieu to the old year and ring in the new one, and here is a writeup with photos to prove it:

Skiing the Hausberg
Skiing in Garmisch doesn't disappoint.  We skiied the Hausberg mountain while in town, which was gorgeous.  The snow was a little bit icy and packed thanks to the throngs of holiday skiiers, but we both made it out with all bones intact and few bruises to speak of.  It was a cloudy day in town, but at the top of the mountain there was nothing but sunshine and blue skies as we looked across at the mountain range and the clouds below:

But the funny thing about skiing in Germany is the line to get on the ski lift.  It is insane!  Otherwise normally rule-abiding people go absolutely crazy trying to push to the front of the line, as if the snow might melt if they don't get to the top first.  It takes a little getting used to as people push up against you and stand on your skis with their own or with their snowboards, but once you've gone up once or twice you just have to take a deep breath, throw normal courtesies aside and become part of the problem! (Tip: Always go to the outer part of the ski lift line because it's easier to push and wedge your way up to the front.  If you go for the middle or the inside lines, you'll be pushed aside by everyone who was smarter than you who went to the outside of the line and you'll be waiting there all day.)

New Year's Eve
Jessica, Jill and Tim in the pedestrian area.
I love fireworks.  I love them on the 4th of July, I love them on the eve of Luxembourg's National Day; I love them in general.  I even love them when I'm dodging them, as I did in Garmisch-Partinkirchen on New Year's Eve.  I'm not sure if this is a German thing or even a European thing (since there are still a few surviving firework casings around Luxembourg City), but apparently, one can buy fireworks all over town in G-P before New Year's and one can then shoot them off wherever and whenever they want.  The biggest of the scattershot displays was surely downtown in the pedestrian zone - where we waited to ring in 2011 - where bottle rockets were stuck into any available snow drift and flaming whirlygigs and spewing Roman candles were ready to attack if you didn't watch where you were going.  To be fair, we were warned that it was going to feel like a war zone.  Thankfully, I've never been in a war zone (unless you count Black Friday shopping), but I'm pretty sure the warnings were accurate. Everyone escaped with hats, hair, eyebrows and all articles of clothing intact - probably a minor miracle.

New Year's Day Ski Jump Competition
Every January 1 since 1921, Garmisch-Partinkirchen has held a ski jump contest.  The contest has been held on the Große Olympiaschanze ("large Olympic hill") in the 1936 Winter Olympics stadium since its construction, and for the last six decades has been part of the world cup qualifying Four Hills Tournament. It was an incredible thing to see jumpers fly down the towering ski jump in perfect form, and it was exciting to be part of the crowd as everyone cheered for their home countries.

As you enter the stadium area, you're greeted by a selection of vendors selling Austrian and German beer, bratwurst, pork sandwiches, sweets and even fondue.  The standing ticket to the event gets you on to the floor of the stadium, which is covered in snow. If you don't go prepared, your feet get cold fast, but luckily Jill and Tim were dialed in and recommended we suit up in several layers, in addition to wearing ski pants.  They also brought cardboard for us all to stand on (genius), so there was something to protect us from being directly on the snow.  Cardboard and styrofoam are the most popular choices among other ski jump viewers, and you could visibly see the difference between how cold the people standing directly on snow were against the people who had planned ahead.  (Thanks, Jill and Tim!)

There was a wind delay during the contest so jumping was temporarily stopped.  To keep things entertaining, popular après ski hits were thrown on the playlist and the stadium speakers were cranked up, which got everyone dancing...and keep in mind, I'm using that word loosely - with the exception of the event announcer, who was caught on camera doing some incredible Bavarian dancing to the tune of "So ein schöner Tag," a song that is as silly as it is fun (excellent YouTube video of the song at this link). So, the rest of us in the stadium bopped up and down to "dance" and keep warm, and then a massive conga line started that wove throughout the stadium (photo below). All in all, ski jumping + funny German après ski hits + tens of thousands of people dancing and doing the conga line = a great day!

On a Schneeschlitten (snow sled)!
On our last day in Garmisch-Partinkirchen we hit the ski slopes again, this time to sled down the Hausberg.  There are a few kinds of sleds that seem to be used for this: first, there's the wooden toboggan that I probably would generally picture being used in Alpine sledding; then there's the plastic version of the wooden toboggan, and then there's the kind that is sort of a plastic square with a phallic looking stick in the middle.  One can fall or fly off each kind of sled, but amazingly it seems that the plastic square kind is easiest to maneuver.

For most of the way down the hill there is a separate "rodelweg" (or toboggan run) so sledders can focus on worrying only about other out-of-control sledders crashing into them and not skiiers as well.  Like a lot of things in Europe, it's sort of a "try at your own risk" kind of activity - there are some steep ravines and some holes here and there to watch out for (easier said than done when you're flying down the slope), and no guard rails of any kind.  There are, however, one or two places on the run that tell sledders to slow down, usually before a steeper or windier bit of path.  I fell off my sled more times than I can count (and still have the aches and pains to show for it!) and on one hill, I flew off my sled but my sled kept going.  I had a hard time walking (read: falling/sliding) down the sledding hill to get it, but thankfully it stayed on the sledding path!  So, another lesson: when people tell you to hang on to the string attached to your sled so your sled doesn't run away from you, they're not joking!

We had a great time in Garmisch-Partinkirchen and can't wait to go back.  I won't elaborate on restaurant reviews, but delicious places to check out if you're in town are the Zirbel, and Mukkefuck. This trip, we also ate at Zum Wildschütz, where we discovered Hirschkuss schnapps (hirschkuss translates to "deer kiss").  Having a schnapps after dinner at least once is a must in Germany, so if you see this stuff, give it a try!  Schnapps in Germany are not like schnapps in the US - they are stronger and typically not sweet like the schnapps brand of liquor in the US.  The Hirschkuss schnapps is herbal but not bitter and is lightly sweet.  For a last restaurant recommendation, the Augustiner - the oldest brewery in Munich - just opened a restaurant in Garmisch-Partinkirchen.  We only stopped in for a beer this time, but it's on our places-to-eat list for our next trip, which will hopefully be soon!

So for now, as they say in Germany: Bis bald! (see you soon!)

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